NLL: Rock take Canadian rivalry game over Warriors

Toronto’s Dan Dawson shoots around Vancouver’s Logan Schuss. (Photo credit: Ryan McCullough)

Since losing their opening game of the season, home floor has been very kind to the Toronto Rock with a three-game win streak coming into Saturday night’s matchup against the Vancouver Warriors. The game was the second in the Alterna Cup for the Rock where they sat first in the standings after defeating the Halifax Thunderbirds two weeks ago.

Vancouver came into the matchup having lost nine of the last 10 against Toronto, and their record didn’t improve as the Rock doubled up on the Warriors 14-7. With the win, not only do they hold first in the Alterna Cup, but are also at the top of the NLL standings.

Fans entering the building early were given a Rob Hellyer bobblehead doll, and on his night he would not disappoint. Hellyer opened the scoring on the first Rock shot with an outside shot. That was matched a few minutes later by a good Joel McCready individual effort. Dan Dawson worked his way around a pick and found himself alone on the crease to regain the Toronto lead but a Logan Schuss outside shot tied the game at two after the first quarter.

McCready broke the deadlock following a pair of Vancouver posts. That’s where the score would stay until after the official’s time out as Nick Rose and Eric Penney thwarted transition chances on both sides. Late in the first Toronto possession out of the break, Dawson grabbed a loose ball and found Johnny Powless who used a quick stick to retie the game. One minute after Mitch Jones put the Warriors up with a dunk shot, the Rock started rolling, scoring four goals in the final five minutes including a pair from Hellyer to lead 7-4 at halftime.

In the third, few minutes found official’s crew chief Chris Williams in the spotlight. Toronto challenged a McCready attempt which would’ve made it 8-5. That goal was called back as review showed him in the crease. Chris Gill countered by challenging the Dawson goal, but it stood due to inconclusive evidence. Some 30 seconds later Penney stopped a Toronto three-on-one rush. Mitch Jones picked the ball out of the crease and sent it down the floor to McCready who dove in front of Rose to score. Matt Sawyer challenged this goal call, but as with the Dawson marker the goal stood, breaking up a Toronto six-goal run and a Vancouver scoring drought spanning more than 12 minutes. The final challenge flag of the game was thrown by Vancouver when Challen Rogers toed the line of the crease. Review determined he did touch the crease and the goal was overturned. After killing off back-to-back Vancouver power plays, the Rock added goals from Hellyer (his fourth) and a one-hand shot from Scott Dominey with Penney racing back to the net in the final minute to lead 11-5 headed into the final quarter.

Penney was called upon in the early going of the fourth to deny two Rock transition opportunities. Vancouver responded with a goal from Jordan McBride who picked up a rebound in front of Rose and dove across the crease to score. With a delayed penalty coming only 40 seconds later, Hellyer scored his fifth. The penalty was to Owen Barker, and it was a five-minute major for roughing. It took all of 30 seconds for Hellyer to complete his sock trick, scoring his sixth and putting the Rock up by seven. With Sheldon Burns threatening a turnover and transition break, Mitch Jones would steal the ball back and score his second of the night. The Rock defence and Nick Rose dug in from there not allowing another Vancouver goal in the final 0- minutes. Burns would get the opportunity he missed earlier on, with just over three minutes to play, as he took off down floor when a loose ball popped to Brad Kri. Kri passed it to Burns who beat Penney for the Rock’s 14th goal. After brief delay for a shot clock error, the Rock changed goaltenders to give Riley Hutchcraft his first action of the season (he stopped both shots he faced). A scrap between Dawson and Barker put an end to the game.

With both Halifax and Buffalo losing on Saturday, the Rock jumped into a tie for first place in the North Division, and first overall in the Alterna Cup standings. Toronto will now travel to Halifax and Saskatchewan over the next two weeks before they head into a bye the first week of March.